Monday, February 20, 2012

Vegetarian Tigers

Every day I see denunciations of corporate greed. I see them on Facebook, and on Occupy poster-boards. “End corporate greed!” they say: and often they complain bitterly about how little taxes corporations pay.

This perplexes me. Corporations are supposed to be greedy. That's what they're there for. The wealth of a nation is determined largely by how efficiently its people are organized to produce its goods: and that translates pretty directly into how successfully greedy its corporations are. It's no more wrong for a corporation to be greedy than it is wrong for a tiger to be carnivorous.

So I don't want to make corporations less greedy. I don't want to turn them into philanthropic organizations. They produce plenty of public benefit just by being themselves. And I don't want to tax their incomes, which puts American corporations at an international disadvantage. Tax their shareholders, by all means. Tax their ridiculously compensated CEO's. Tax their sales, if you must. But leave the tigers healthy to hunt.

But by the same token, it's silly to treat corporations as persons, and give them political rights. A corporation is no more capable of public spirit and selflessness than a tiger is capable of becoming vegetarian. The founders of the United States would have been horrified at the idea of a corporation having political rights. And so am I. It's not just common sense that's outraged by the idea of a corporation having god-given, inalienable rights. It's political sense. A corporation, given the power of political speech, will use it for the one thing it knows: maximizing profit. The same thing that makes a corporation a healthy economic creature makes it ineligible to be a political creature. A corporation doesn't, and shouldn't, understand the public good. It doesn't have children whose future it's anxious for. It doesn't care about rivers being polluted. It doesn't think some things belong only to God.

Corporations don't belong in the political arena for the same reason that tigers don't belong in sheepfolds. And it's not because they're greedy. It's right and proper that they're greedy. I wouldn't have them any other way. It's because they are not, never have been, and never will be persons. No matter what the Supreme Court says.


marly youmans said...

What clarity! Nice takedown of "corporate personhood."

christopher said...

The original naming of corporations as persons was a legal construct that solved certain legal and judicial problems. It is no longer quite appropriate. Many people consider that unions as collectives which solved certain problems are now no longer appropriate. Perhaps it is time to drop outmoded constructs.

However, while I am in favor of changing the legal description of a corporation, I hesitate to diddle with the unions and abhor the mostly successful attempt in recent decades to gut them. I am only pointing out that honorable people differ in these matters.

Dale said...

Certainly... did you think I was taking some sort of stand on unions, here? I didn't mean to be.

christopher said...

No, you did not. It is that unions are the counterpart to corporations and both of these organizations engender the same type of philosophical objections.

I brought it up because I saw for the first time that not only are these organizations objected to in similar ways albeit from opposite ends of the spectrum, but that they arose to solve historical problems in a similar polarized fashion.

Dale said...

I see. Yes, the "personhood" of unions was in some ways a response to the "personhood" of corporations, I guess.

I share your reluctance to mess with any defense that American workers have, at the moment, however frail.

christopher said...

A most dangerous current attitude is to call unions obsolete due to a more "enlightened" consciousness in corporations. I have worked in paper mills, food handling factories and other heavy industry my whole working life and have seen first hand the willingness to screw the production worker. Corporations hate sharing profits with people in the areas of production and maintenance, or my field of engineering for that matter.

marly youmans said...

You can also rant agains the "personality" of "brands," which I just encountered in an essay.